Dhaka: The toll in last week's building collapse on the outskirts of Bangladesh capital Dhaka climbed to 501 on Friday, the authorities said.

Ten days into one of Bangladesh's worst tragedies, relatives of those trapped inside say scores of people were still unaccounted for.

Officials had earlier said rescuers have pulled alive more than 2,437 people after eight-storeyed building Rana Plaza crumbled like a house of cards on April 24.

"The death toll from the building collapse has climbed to 501, including 24 bodies which were recovered Friday morning," a police official told Xinhua on Friday.

He said rescuers continued their relentless efforts to pull out many more bodies which were spotted on Friday morning.

Of the bodies, he said 393 have so far been handed over to their relatives.  Rescuers have left hope of finding any more survivors, but they believe that there might have many more bodies in the rubble of the collapsed building where relatives say they won't leave until they had received the bodies.

Bangladesh authorities are not deploying heavy machinery amid concern that tearing chunks from the building might jeopardize the safety of anyone clinging to life beneath the sandwiched floors of the building.

How many people still remain missing is a big question which officials still cannot answer. All they can say is they do not have the exact number.  "The rescue operation would have been easier had we had a list of the people working on  different floors," Brigadier General Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence, was quoted as saying in a report of The Daily Star on Friday.

End violence against protesters: HRW

With new protests planned in the coming days, the Bangladesh government should ensure that security forces stop using excessive force against protesters, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

The government should appoint an independent commission to investigate the deaths of dozens of protesters, including children, since large-scale street protests began in February, and prosecute anyone responsible for unlawful killings and use of force.

Eyewitness accounts obtained by Human Rights Watch demonstrate that police, the Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB) and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) have shot live ammunition and rubber bullets into unarmed crowds, conducted sweeping arrests, and used other forms of excessive force during and after protests that began in February and continue.

The use of lethal force has taken place in multiple locations in Dhaka as well as the northern and southern districts of the country, Human Rights Watch said. “Security forces confronted with large groups of demonstrators have opened fire on crowds, often without warning, killing unarmed protesters and bystanders,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that this stops, and to replace officials who have failed to properly supervise forces under their control.”

Human Rights Watch also called on opposition parties to condemn and take steps to deter their supporters from carrying out unlawful attacks, including on law enforcement officers or members of the public with different political views.

Eight police officers have been killed during protests. The government has blamed the Jamaat-e-Islami party and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) for the killings.

Human Rights Watch has interviewed family members and obtained medical reports which describe entry and exit wounds consistent with the use of live ammunition.

In the majority of the cases documented, protesters were shot in the head, chest or stomach. In at least six instances the victims were children. Most of the deaths of protesters occurred in the week after the February 28 verdict by Bangladesh ’s International War Crimes Tribunal (ICT) sentencing Jamaat leader Delwar Hossein Sayeedi to death.

Human Rights Watch interviewed eyewitnesses who described protests that broke out in cities and villages around the country.

In some cases they said protesters threw bricks and stones at security force barricades and police responded with the use of live fire.

Human Rights Watch also documented the deaths of eight police officers and three Awami League protesters during the recent violence.

(Agencies)

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